The North Face ThermoBall is now a handful of years old, but remains one of the most popular jackets on the market. With its puffy synthetic fill, sewn-through construction, and smooth shell, the jacket does a pretty good impression of a lightweight down piece. But as we found in our testing, it’s also starting to show its age and is no longer a class leader in the highly competitive synthetic field. Below we break down the ThermoBall’s warmth, weight and packability, weather protection, durability, fit, and more. To see how it stacks up, see our articles on the best synthetic jackets and midlayers.
Named after its insulation design, the The North Face ThermoBall uses clusters of synthetic fibers to give the jacket its signature lightweight feel and puffy look. The ball-like polyester fill was developed with PrimaLoft to emulate goose and duck down by trapping heat efficiently and with minimal weight. While it falls short of the cozy warmth you get from down—as well as more recent efforts like Patagonia’s new Micro Puff—the ThermoBall still is a quality insulator overall. Warmth wise, we put it on par with popular lightweight synthetics like the Arc’teryx Atom LT and Patagonia Nano Puff. This means that it isn’t built for high alpine adventures, but works great as an outer layer during the shoulder seasons where temperatures are often in the mid to lower 40s Fahrenheit. As a midlayer for downhill skiing, we’ve been comfortable in it even as temperatures dip into the teens.
On our scale, the ThermoBall in a men’s medium weighs 12.5 ounces, which is a hair more than its listed weight of 12.3 ounces. Stacked up against its competition, the ThermoBall is competitive: Patagonia’s Nano Puff comes in at 11.9 ounces, while Arc’teryx’s Atom LT checks in a little less at 11.1 ounces. You can save weight with Patagonia’s new Micro Puff (9.3 oz.), but that jacket is only available as a hoody, isn’t very durable, and will set you back an additional $80. The ThermoBall also can’t compete with most down options in terms of weight—even the Outdoor Research Transcendent, which uses mid-range 650-fill down and costs the same as the ThermoBall, provides more warmth at just under 13 ounces.
As with its weight, the ThermoBall is packable for a synthetic but won’t be confused for a premium down piece. The jacket compresses easily into its large left-hand pocket, which includes a two-sided zipper for storage. The tall pocket gives the ThermoBall a long rectangular shape when packed, and we found it fairly easy to compress the jacket even further when stuffing it into a daypack or suitcase. If packed size is important to you, we recommend spending up for a down jacket or ultralight synthetic like the Micro Puff, but we think most travelers and backpackers won’t have much to complain about with the ThermoBall.
Given the ThermoBall’s utility as a mid and outer layer, we look for moderate weather protection, which it delivers. The shell has a DWR coating that will keep light drizzle and snowfall at bay, but during heavy rain the jacket will start to let water in through the seams. The good news is that as with other synthetics, the jacket will continue insulating when wet, unlike down fill that clumps up and is very slow to dry. Wind protection is similarly good with the face fabric repelling gusts, but you’ll want to throw on a rain jacket or hardshell if it truly turns nasty. Overall, the weather protection is a nice match for its intended use: lots of daily wear and the occasional foray into the mountains.
At its release, the ThermoBall was touted as a viable option for high-output use, but it’s since been overtaken by a number of more recent releases in the growing active insulation market. New options like The North Face’s own Ventrix jacket are made with stretchy and breathable liners, insulation, and shells that do an impressive job of regulating your temperature during aerobic activities (for more information, see our in-depth Ventrix review). The ThermoBall, on the other hand, is more like a down jacket—its aim is to efficiently trap heat and block light rain and wind. As a result, the smooth interior doesn’t wick away sweat and can become slippery and clammy rather quickly. Depending on your intended use, this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but don’t expect the ThermoBall to excel in activities like climbing or backcountry skiing.
The North Face uses a 15-denier (D) shell and lining, which is on the thin end for a jacket of this type. It is a high quality ripstop polyester with a nice feel, but it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence when brushing up against branches and rock or even in day-to-day life. If we were to make a change to the jacket (in addition to the fit that we cover below), beefing up the exterior durability would rank highly. The ThermoBall already isn’t intended for minimalists, so adding another ounce or two for the security of a tough shell seems like a worthwhile trade-off to us (note: opting for a "matte" finish jacket will get you a stronger 30D shell, but the classic colors only come with 15D). That being said, the rest of the jacket is well made and we love the quality of the main zipper in particular, which has large teeth and has operated flawlessly.
Except for a few recent performance pieces like the Ventrix, we’ve found jackets from The North Face to consistently run a little large and boxy. This is true with the ThermoBall, which we ordered in our normal medium size and had plenty room to spare, particularly in the arms and torso. The fit is best described as relaxed, which may appeal to those that want to wear a thicker baselayer or two underneath the jacket or will use it primarily around town. But for layering and the backcountry—as well as our own preferences in having a more athletic cut—the fit left us missing our favorite synthetics like the Arc’teryx Atom LT, Patagonia Nano-Air, and The North Face’s own Ventrix. On the plus side, there are two waist cinches that adjust the hem evenly, and we’d expect the ThermoBall to fit most body types reasonably well.
What We Like
- A comfortable outer or midlayer with the right amount of warmth for the shoulder seasons.
- Has the puffy look of a down jacket and does a pretty good impression of down’s lightweight warmth.
- Is made in a ton of different colors and styles, as well as a hoody and vest.
What We Don’t
- The jacket fits big and boxy, although it’s about average for The North Face.
- Despite the puffy jacket looks, it’s not any warmer for the weight than with other PrimaLoft layers.
- The 15D shell fabric is thin and not very confidence inspiring for serious outdoor use.
|The North Face ThermoBall||$199||12.3 oz.||PrimaLoft ThermoBall (33g)||15-denier||Yes|
|Arc’teryx Atom LT||$239||11.1 oz.||Coreloft (60g)||20-denier||No|
|Patagonia Nano Puff||$199||11.9 oz.||PrimaLoft Gold Eco (60g)||22-denier||Yes|
|The North Face Ventrix||$199||14.8 oz.||Ventrix (80g)||30-denier||No|
|Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody||$299||9.3 oz.||PlumaFill (65g)||10-denier||Yes|
There were a number of well-established synthetic jackets when the ThermoBall hit the market, but its innovative insulation, good styling, and impressive marketing campaign have made it a classic. One of our favorite synthetics at the time of its launch—and still today—is the Arc’teryx Atom LT (see our in-depth review). This jacket is the cozier option with softer materials, stretch side panels, and a more athletic fit compared with the boxier ThermoBall. As everyday jackets, both offer similar levels of warmth and the ThermoBall saves you $40, but we think the Atom LT’s comfort, fit, and build quality are worth the extra money.
The ThermoBall’s closest competitor in warmth, price, and popularity around town is the Patagonia Nano Puff. Both jackets have enough insulation to be comfortable down into the low 40s Fahrenheit, and their smooth shells and linings are nice to wear as both mid and outer layers. We do, however, prefer the Patagonia’s regular fit to the large and relaxed cut of the ThermoBall, but that can be a subjective choice. Another personal preference is looks—despite its name, the Nano Puff is lower profile than the ThermoBall, which looks more like a down jacket. Overall, we prefer the Patagonia design, but it’s worth noting that the hoody version of the ThermoBall will save you $29 (the non-hooded versions are the same price).
A final alternative is The North Face’s new Ventrix jacket. Similar to the ubiquitous Patagonia Nano-Air, this piece puts breathability and temperature regulation above all-out warmth and weight. We have to say we’ve been really impressed with the Ventrix and would choose it over the ThermoBall in most cases: it’s super comfortable with stretchy and soft materials, fits better with an athletic but not restrictive cut, and the breathable design is the real deal. The ThermoBall is lighter and packs down smaller (the Ventrix doesn’t even stuff into its own pocket), but the new Ventrix is our favorite insulated jacket currently made by The North Face.
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